New Delhi: When he was hand-picked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to head the Rail Ministry, Suresh Prabhu’s reputation as a technocrat who has excelled in both corporate and public life prevailed over his simplistic demeanour.
Prabhu has lived up to his standing in his maiden Rail Budget. In one stroke, he has unshackled the railways from mindless populism preferred by each one of his predecessors who chose to milk the behemoth for political gains in completely disregarding the health of the organisation.
The Indian Railways might still be working as a fairly efficient transportation system, but it was crumbling under its own weight. Prabhu’s brief was simple: to bring the resource-crunched railways on the right track.
He chose to plug cracks on the tracks by offering a slew of measures to make travel comfortable for the passengers. He has refrained from hiking the passenger fair.
For the first time, he resisted the temptation of announcing new trains, at least for the time-being.
But the relief on tariffs could be momentary as the hikes are being delinked from the Budget. If new trains have not been added, the railways will add bogies in the existing trains that might slow them down.
Prabhu has announced a record Rs 100,000 crore investment plan, but not enough light is thrown on the source of this inflow.
To move ahead, the railways will have to first clear the backlog of unfulfilled promises. The minister has shown the right intent and tried to be different, but there is lack of clear vision on how to meet the targets.
Now that the populist express has been derailed, the focus should be on the turnaround of railways. It will also reflect on Modi’s economic vision.
The prime minister has described the Budget as a watershed moment, but it remains to be seen if it can enthuse the markets and help boost the economy.